Patapsco Heritage Greenway welcomes Brandt Dirmeyer, a Chesapeake Bay Trust Conservation Corps Member, who will be with us for the next year. Instead of introducing him in our words- we asked him to introduce himself. Read more about his thoughts and experiences and stay tuned for more posts throughout the year.
A person, no matter their past experiences, their current place in life, or their dreams of the future, is fundamentally a human being. To be a human is to be a part of a species classified as Homo Sapiens Sapiens, but it is so much more than a standard definition. We think, we feel, and we consciously act. While we maintain the survival instinct of our extant ancestors who foraged across six continents and the world’s oceans, we have evolved into a species critical of our existence. Our brains are soft-wired to be aware of our ever-changing environments, and in our modern age it is imperative to our future survival.
No longer do we rely on the bountiful biomass of the wilderness for our nourishment. Food is now produced by humans, for human consumption. As the history of our species progressed, we grew further apart from our animal origins. We learned to manipulate fire, to ferment sugar, and to domesticate other animals like goats and cows and many plants for our own gain. We bred the poodle from the grey wolf and broccoli from the mustard plant. Bananas are now yellow and fruits no longer have seeds.
In the pursuit of usable energy, numerous agricultural societies began to think humanity as the center of existence. The thought went so far as to assume that Earth was the absolute center of the cosmos, and that we were put on this planet to rule it. We certainly have domain over the land and sea in contemporary times, but we are now realizing the consequences of our unmitigated exploitation. Earth’s atmosphere is fluctuating like it has never done before, mass extinctions of other species are destroying fragile ecosystems, and at the center of it all, humanity is caught as the culprit.
Thankfully, our double-edged sword of industrialization has allowed the pursuit of science to flourish. The past two hundred and so years have turned our focus as a thinking species further inward, from the cosmic afterlife to the reality of our presence. We see our physical worlds not as obstacles to transcend, but as mysteries yet-unsolved. As we continue to exploit resources for our survival, we are now aware of our environmental impact. We know that we are not just individuals, singular in our existence, but an amalgam of multitudes, from the chemistries of our bodies and the bacteria of our colons to the psychologies of our personalities and the philosophies of our being. As Homo Sapiens Sapiens, we are as much a product of our environments as we are products of our own design.
As an individual living in ever-changing environments, I was thrilled to commit my next year towards better understanding my locality. I was born and raised in central Maryland. It is my home. Although I’ve travelled to numerous other states and other countries, my home is special to me. It is my place of origin: where I grew into the person that I am today. If I was raised in the deserts of Patagonia, or at the base of the Kunlun Mountains in China, I would be a fundamentally different person. I would speak a different language with a different cultural inheritance. My thoughts would likely be similar, in that I would be a product of the twenty-first century, a time of ecological awareness and reverence for life beyond myself, but I would have a different way of expressing these ideas.
As I was not raised in a remote Amazonian village, but in the beating heart of the United States of America, I learned of ecological degradation through reading, and later on connected the actions to my homeland. Upon exploring the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Captain John Smith said of America, “within is a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places known, for large and pleasant navigable rivers, heaven and Earth may never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.” Since his first exploration and the colonization of the Americas, the abundance of wildlife that captured Captain Smith’s admiration has been greatly reduced, but the potential is not lost. In the Chesapeake Bay, the Patapsco River, and numerous other places throughout the world, conservation is gaining traction. In the Patapsco River area, a stalwart in both industrialization and conservation since the nineteenth century, there are plans to deconstruct the first submerged hydroelectric dam so that sediment will freely flow and nourish the areas downstream that have long been depleted of essential nutrients.
Unfortunately, the deconstruction was postponed in the aftermath of a flood that surged through historic Ellicott City. The rushing water carved through Main Street, eroding storefronts, damaging property, and causing sidewalks to collapse. The people of Ellicott City are no strangers to flooding, and their resiliency has allowed them to survive, but in the face of more severe storms as our global atmosphere fluctuates, we must plan to live within the confines of nature and rebuild with the thought in mind that we are unquestionably a fundamental part of our environment. I was simultaneously struck with shock and awe of the tremendous power of water. I had spent countless hours in the historic district and in the state park, and to see it change for the worse left me wondering how I could make an impact. Already in my first day of work, the Patapsco Heritage Greenway event helped to clean the debris settled downstream of Bloede Dam. My body was sore, but my mind was ready for more. I will continue to write about the rebuilding efforts of the town, as well as the efforts to clean the Patapsco River and the surrounding local areas in the aftermath of this tragedy.
As the individuals of a conscious species, we have the ability not only to mitigate our negative impacts upon our environments, but to enact positive change in the present. I hope that by better understanding our collective pasts, we will have clarity of sight in our future endeavors.